GALLERY: Towing of broken up Wakashio gets underway

Towing operation of the bow section of the ill-fated bulk carrier Wakashio that split in two after running aground off Mauritius causing a major environmental disaster has been launched earlier today.

Mobilisation Nationale Wakashio/Ministry of the Environment of Mauritius

Images released by the Ministry of the Environment of Mauritius show that two tugs have managed to set up the tow lines and are pulling the bow section from the grounding site.

Image credit: Mobilisation Nationale Wakashio/Ministry of the Environment of Mauritius

In line with the Monday decision made by the National Crisis Management Committee, the bow section is being taken eight nautical miles from the outer limit of the reef at 2000mts depth.

Due to the adverse weather conditions, the stern section which remains aground on the reef is being left at the site as there is still some residual oil in the engine room which needs to be pumped out once the weather clears out.

To remind, MV Wakashio ran aground on July 25, off Pointe d’Esny natural area, on the south-eastern coast of Mauritius and started leaking oil following severe weather conditions.

The 2007-built Wakashio is owned by Japan-based Nagashiki Shipping and time chartered to Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL).

An estimated 3,894 tonnes of low-sulphur fuel oil, 207 tonnes of diesel and 90 tonnes of lubricant oil were on board.

The affected area is located in a very sensitive zone that includes the Blue Bay Marine Park, Ile aux Aigrettes, and the Ramsar sites.

Around 1,000 of oil are estimated to have leaked from the wreck, while more than 3,000 tonnes of fuel have been extracted. However, some residual oil remains in the stern section.

SMIT Salvage has been appointed by the vessel owner to oversee the salvage operations.

Meanwhile, clean up efforts of the shoreline continues together with monitoring of the impact of the spill on the local flora and fauna.

Image credit: Mobilisation Nationale Wakashio/Ministry of the Environment of Mauritius

“Around 884 metric tons of oil liquid waste, 524 metric tons of solid waste sludge and contaminated debris, and 416 cubic meters of saturated artisanal booms have been collected as at mid-day on Monday, August 17, 2020,” National Crisis Committee, set up by the environment ministry, said in the latest update.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) have jointly deployed an expert, who is advising the Government of Mauritius on the mitigation of the impacts on the environment and coastal communities.

France and Japan are also assisting Mauritius, which has activated its national oil spill contingency plan.

Alongside IMO and OCHA, the shipowner and International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) are also mobilising environmental and oil spill experts.

The IMO said that its liability and compensation regime is partly in play for this incident.

The Wakashio has compulsory insurance under the 2001 Bunkers Convention concerning all material damage and pollution claims up to the applicable limits in accordance with relevant instruments (including LLMC) and national legislation in force.

Given that the ship involved is a bulk carrier, other international conventions specific to pollution damage caused by oil tankers, such as the IOPC Fund regime, do not apply in this case.

Commenting on the disaster, Greenpeace stressed that the break up of Wakashio and the related spill must serve as an incentive for the industry to “break free from fossil fuels”.

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It is still too early to determine how long will the clean-up efforts take and how much will they cost, as estimates indicate that the bill could reach up to $500 million.

The ship’s crew is being investigated by the authorities to help determine the cause of the incident.

Unconfirmed reports are suggesting that the crew was celebrating a crewmember’s birthday and approached the Mauritius coastline as they were searching for a wifi signal. Other reports indicate that two crew members were on board the ship for over a year due to COVID-19 contract extensions.

As the ship is not a laden tanker, and the pollution was from bunkers, any compensation claims seem likely to be dealt with under the 2001 Bunker Convention. This provides for mandatory third-party insurance cover, and allows claims of third parties for clean-up expenses and other losses caused by pollution from bunkers to be made directly against the insurers,” Martin Hall, Partner and Head of Marine Casualty at Clyde and Co, said in a comment to Offshore Energy-Green Marine. 

“However, owners are entitled to limit liability in accordance with the Convention for Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976, or as amended.

Compensation is based on the gross tonnage of the vessel, which in this case appears to be 101,932 tonnes. This would entail a potential cap of around $18 million under the 1976 Limitation Convention, unless Mauritius has enacted the higher limits under the 1996 Protocol to the Limitation Convention, or as recently updated.